So far, the offensive line's play has been an accurate gauge to team success, and the Texans (4-3) can take another step toward their first division title against the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) on Sunday.
In four victories, Houston has averaged 176.75 yards rushing and either Ben Tate or Arian Foster has topped 100 yards. In three losses, the Texans have averaged only 91 yards rushing, with neither featured back reaching the century mark.
The line has also done a better job protecting quarterback Matt Schaub with only four sacks in the wins, while they've given up nine in the three losses.
"To a certain part, as the offensive line goes, so goes the rest of the team," said right tackle Eric Winston, who's started 78 consecutive games.
The Texans have started 13 games over the past two seasons with the current front five: left tackle Duane Brown, guard Wade Smith, center Chris Myers, guard Mike Brisiel and Winston. Houston has averaged 399.2 yards in those games, and the linemen have embraced the role of setting the tone for the offense.
In Houston's 41-7 win at Tennessee last week, the line paved the way for a season-high 222 yards rushing and did not allow a sack. Winston said the linemen also established an intensity that spread through the entire team.
"The big thing I was pleased with the last game was we brought a lot of energy, and I think a lot of people fed off of that," Winston said. "We kept the energy level up, kept running down the field, making blocks and doing those things. I was proud of it from that standpoint, and I think that's our responsibility from here on out.
"Now that we've seen what we do, we've got to go out there and keep doing that, keep bringing that energy level and keep doing everything we can to make sure we're successful."
The Texans set a franchise record for total offense (386.6 yards per game) for the fourth straight season in 2010, and they lead the league with 13 100-yard rushing performances since the start of last season.
Houston leads the NFL this season in drives lasting five minutes or more (16), and Foster and Schaub say stability has become a key to the line's effectiveness.
"Those guys know what they're doing, they're playing extremely well," Schaub said. "I have all the confidence in the world in what they're doing. I've been with them for four years, so great chemistry with those guys."
Winston was a third-round pick in 2006 and Brisiel signed later that year as an undrafted free agent. Houston acquired Myers in a trade with Denver in March 2008 then selected Brown in the first round of the draft that year. Smith joined the team before the 2010 season, and the line has been virtually intact ever since.
Winston says the line has been "up and down" this year, even though Houston's offense ranks seventh in the league (400.6 yards per game).
Tate and Foster both reached 100 yards rushing in Sunday's game, and Foster became the first Texans player and 32nd in history to have 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. Foster was named the AFC's top offensive performer, and reiterated on Wednesday that his offensive line should've gotten more recognition for helping him lead the league in rushing in 2010.
Winston said the linemen gladly relinquish the spotlight.
"I don't think a lot of us want the publicity necessarily, or expect it," Winston said. "We love to hear that Arian was the 32nd player in NFL history to do something, or we had two guys over 100 yards. Those kind of things are awesome for us. That's where we feel like we had a direct correlation on the outcome of the game."
Notes: As expected, WR Andre Johnson returned to practice on Wednesday after sitting out the previous three games with a right hamstring injury. Coach Gary Kubiak says Johnson took another "huge step forward" in his recovery, though he would not say definitively if Johnson will play on Sunday. "It's going to be a process this week," Kubiak said, "but there's obviously a chance (he'll play)." ... Fullback James Casey (strained chest muscle) also returned after missing the last two games, and expects Casey to play on Sunday. ... LB Brian Cushing sat out Wednesday's practice with a sinus infection.